Anyone else feeling spent by 2 PM lately? Right now, although time keeps ticking on at a seemingly faster rate than before, my energy levels certainly haven’t followed suit. Most of us probably know that our energy levels normally shift during the workday, with one study showing higher energy levels in the morning and a steady drift downward in the afternoon. Although this is normal and why Spanish people take siestas (I wish Americans would adopt this- it’s wonderful), it seems like these daily dips are even more sporadic these days.
So what can we do about these daily dips, especially right now? While working from home it’s easy to lunge right into work mode at 9 and not move for a few hours, minus maybe getting up to go to the bathroom. Then suddenly it’s already 2 and you haven’t even eaten lunch and suddenly feel rushed to eat at your laptop and just continue sitting. However, then you hit 3 PM and you’ve hit an energy wall. You’ve gone none stop without any breaks and although that might have seemed like the more productive route, I’m here to tell you that it’s not.
I’m guilty of falling into the above routine, forgoing my morning workout to get to something I feel like I really need to get to and then skipping lunch, only to feel like crap by 2 PM. Taking breaks throughout the day, especially when we’re all in the confines of our homes, is crucial to sustaining energy throughout the day. In fact, the same study from above found that a single five-minute session of stair climbing could raise energy levels for over an hour. More energy translates into better work, which makes breaks incredibly productive — if they’re done well.
The key to getting the most out of breaks is proactively scheduling the right ones in. If your brain is tired, it will take a break regardless but you’ll probably succumb to mindlessly scrolling newsfeeds for half an hour before you even realize what you’re doing. Instead, it’s important to schedule in these three types of breaks.
3 Types of Breaks
If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant or in retail, you’ll know that you always get a certain amount of allotted breaks built into your shift. When I was working at Macys in high school, I used to love walking down to the Boba Tea and getting a hot tea on my 15 minute break—it was just enough walking and a nice warm pick me up to get me through the rest of my shift. So why don’t more of us adopt this rhythm at home? I think the hardest thing about the WFH life is that it’s harder to separate work from home— when you’re at home you’re at work and when you’re at work you’re at home. In order to not feel like you’re on 24/7, scheduling and taking breaks is even more important. Taking breaks helps us to remember that work time is finite and stops. This is true even when we physically remain in the same place. Taking regular shorter breaks, even as short as 10 minutes, a slightly longer lunchtime, and then a mid-afternoon pick-me-up will help keep the same rhythm as you did while physically present in the office and will help to curb burnout.
Ideally, these workday breaks should consist of a variety of different activities that are proven to increase energy levels, or highly likely to improve mood. One study that measured people’s happiness levels through the day and during different activities found that beyond the obvious winners — eating and “intimate relations” — people were happiest when exercising, socializing, and engaging in spiritual activities.
Here are some ideas for each:
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.”
A physical break might include going for a run, walking the dog, going for a walk around the block, doing a yoga video, doing some random jumping jacks in your living room, or running up and down your stairs a few times.
This type of break is a little harder to achieve these days when we don’t have colleagues to go grab a coffee with. However, you can still derive the same benefit from simply having lunch with your partner or kids, or by calling a good friend or relative.
In this context, spiritual means anything affecting the human spirit or soul. This type of break could include meditating, spending time in nature, praying, reading spiritual texts or devotionals, listening to uplifting music, looking at something beautiful, or doing anything that connects you to something larger than yourself. This is of course going to be different for everyone so find what resonates with you.
Now, pick breaks from each category that appeal to you and schedule them in before each day.
Here are some examples:
10:30 a.m.- Do a 15 minute cardio-blast workout.
1:00- Have lunch with your partner in another room than where you’ve been working.
3:30 p.m.- Take a short walk around the block to get outside and clear your head.
11 a.m.- Do some yoga stretches between meetings.
Lunch- Have lunch outside and soak in the beauty of nature.
4 p.m- Meditate for 10 minutes in the afternoon
10:30 a.m.- Sip a cup of tea and listen to your favorite piece of music.
12 p.m.- Walk to a nearby local restaurant to pick up lunch.
2:30 p.m.: Call your mom! Or your best friend or someone close to you.
Scheduling and taking breaks clearly isn’t rocket science, but it does take mindfulness. Instead of succumbing to a non-stop grind or to mindlessly scrolling social media, taking short breaks throughout the day will prepare your mind to disengage when the work day is over. With no physical separation of work and home right now, this is extremely important to our wellbeing. Taking better breaks leads to better sleep, which leads to better work—and the breaks don’t even have to be long! One study tested break lengths of 1, 5, and 9 minutes, and all these break conditions made people feel better. Yes, even a one-minute break made a noticeable improvement.
So next time you’re about to pick up your phone to scroll instagram, opt for one of these breaks instead and see how you feel.